Thursday, November 15, 2007

Media & Money Conf.: Print Must Do More Online

Media & Money Conf.: Print Must Do More Online
BY Lucia Moses

Ink-on-paper newspapers and magazines still have plenty of life left in them, but they may need to make radical changes to their model to stay relevant in today's multimedia world, panelists said today at a media conference.

Newspapers have plenty of ways to improve their profitability, noted Jill Greenthal, senior managing director, The Blackstone Group, pointing out examples of same-city competing papers that have been exploring ways of sharing distribution and production functions.

"All elements of how they think about the product have to be reinvented, turned over," said Greenthal, speaking on a panel at Media and Money, a two-day conference hosted by Dow Jones & Co. and the Nielsen Co., parent of Mediaweek.

There was little disagreement on the challenges facing print.

Newspapers haven't fully figured out how to leverage their Web sites with advertisers, even if they've come around to seeing the Web as complementary rather than a threat to their print editions, the panelists said. As Gordon Crovitz, publisher of Dow Jones' The Wall Street Journal, quipped, while the Journal's news staff has fully embraced the concept of blogs, "I've yet to see a business case for any of them."

Despite newspapers' efforts to create editions specifically with young people in mind, connecting with younger and other digitally-oriented readers was another worry.

"The industry has not figured out what is the magic bullet for that," Greenthal said. "It really is an issue. People who work for me who are 25, 30 years old do not read the newspaper."

Another panelist, Kent Brownridge, CEO of Alpha Media Group, is particularly aware of that challenge as the publisher of Maxim and Blender, whose sweet spot is men in their 20s. Brownridge acknowledged that his company's biggest growth prospects lie online, not in print.

"We'll get our 4, 5, 10 percent growth by just working like demons in traditional ways," he said. "But the biggest opportunity is to appeal to them through Web properties."

Still, Brownridge also said that the magazine industry is due for a course correction, pointed to inflated magazine circulation and a failure by some to focus on readers' wants.

"There probably are 20 percent too many magazines," he said, "and I think the current market is going to eliminate some of those."

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